'There is a strongly musical element in verbal language. (A sigh, the intonation of voice in a question, in an announcement, in longing; all the innumerable gestures made with the voice.)' (Wittgenstein, 1981, no.161).
'The child's self-motion, his own gestures, are what assign the function of sign to the object and give it meaning' (Vygotsky, 1978, p.108).Traditionally in the social and behavioral sciences, seeking a single, unified, orderly account of things, we have spoken and written about ourselves as disembodied, isolated, self-contained individuals. We think of ourselves as existing in a fixed world of objects that we come to know, primarily, in a visual-intellectual manner, through our observations of them. As such, we have assumed that we can only come to know our own true nature in such a world by our empirical testing of our possible representations of it for their accuracy. However, unlike computers and other machines, as living, embodied beings, we cannot be wholly indifferent to the world around us. We must, to an extent, continuously react and respond to it, spontaneously, whether we like it or not, and in so doing, we must of necessity, relate and connect ourselves to our surroundings in one way or another.
Below, influenced both by Wittgenstein and Vygotsky (as well as Volosinov and Bakhtin), I want to explore the consequences of us talking of human activity from within a new vocabulary that takes our living, embodied nature seriously, from within what I shall call a relational rather than an individualistic way of talking. For, just as the child, 'with the help of the indicative function of words,... begins to master his (sic) attention, creating new structural centers in the perceived situation (Vygotsky, 1978, p.35), so we also, as investigators, can draw our own attention to otherwise unnoticed features of our own conduct, through the introduction of a new vocabulary, a new way of talking.
'How could human behavior be described? Surely only by sketching the actions of a variety of humans, as they are all mixed up together. What determines our judgment, our concepts and reactions, is not what one man is doing now, an individual action, but the whole hurly-burly of human actions, the background against which we see any action' (Wittgenstein, 1981, no.567).
This, I think, is one of the very basic lessons he has to teach. What Wittgenstein brings to our attention, is the nature and extent of the usually unnoticed, background activities constituting the everyday lives we live, as non-intellectualizing, non- deliberating, embodied beings, spontaneously reacting and responding to those around us. For, developmentally, prior to establishing any institutionalized forms of life, with their associated orderly language games, what we just do, unselfconsciously and spontaneously, provides the creative grounds within which such forms can grow. As he suggests: 'The origin and the primitive form of the language game is a reaction; only from this can more complicated forms develop. Language - I want to say - is a refinement, 'in the beginning was the deed'.' Where, in this kind of activity - that elsewhere, I have called joint action (Shotter, 1980, 1984, 1993) - what we do is 'shaped' just as much by the social context 'into' which we must fit our actions, as any inner plans or desires from 'out of' which we act. So, although participants may respond to each other in a 'fitting' manner, to the extent that they influence each other's actions in a moment-by-moment fashion, its nature is intrinsically unpredictable, indeterminate, and creative: it is an entirely unique and novel outcome, related to its circumstances, but unintended by any of the individual participants involved. So, although they react and respond to each other in a meaningful way, none of them can have a complete reflective grasp on the meaning of their activities - they only 'show' it in how they perform them.
The consequences of our embedding within streams of such living, corporeal activity flowing between ourselves and our surroundings are, then, easily ignored. Used to thinking of ourselves as wholly free agents, self-consciously containing the meaning of our own actions 'in our heads' somewhere, the anonymous, pre-personal life of our bodies remains somewhat invisible to us. Intent upon our own sayings and doings, we fail to notice the continuously changing background circumstances 'calling out' our actions from us, or, the 'shaping' influences they exert upon us as we act 'into' them: concerned, for instance, with formulating a question to a speaker according to our own, self- conscious aims, we fail to notice the fleeting, peculiar, momentary influences that made us feel the urge to question what they were saying in the first place, or, what determines how we uniquely enunciate our words in its utterance.
It is in these transitory dialogical or interactive moments - when second person 'you's' respond to what first person 'I's' are doing - that second persons 'show' their understandings to first persons in their practical responses to them; that is, whatever their meaning in theory, the meaning of a person's action or utterance in practice, is a matter of how those who are its recipients respond to it. It is the special, uniquely creative nature of this form of 'active, responsive understanding,' as Bakhtin (1986, p.68) calls it - to contrast it with the 'passive understanding that, so to speak, only duplicates [a speaker's] own idea in someone else's head' (Bakhtin, 1986, p.69) - that I want to explore. It is these living, responsive, background reactions that we are failing to see for what they are, and it is to their nature that, through certain, new relational forms of talk, I want to draw our attention.
Thus, what I want to argue below is that, if we want to bring this background into view, besides the distinction between 'saying' and 'showing' introduced by Wittgenstein (see Edwards, 1982), we shall also find it very useful to introduce talk of both gestures and gesturing, as well as of feeling and feelings. For, we shall need to further differentiate what we 'show' in our talk intertwined activities, by drawing attention not only to our momentary, spontaneous, corporeal responding or gesturing to each other, but also, to how we 'go out to meet' the activities of those around us, so to speak, with a certain structure of already embodied anticipatory feelings as to how they will respond to us.
It is through such talk of gesture and feeling, that we can bring certain crucial phenomena of a fleeting, momentary nature (usually disregarded in our more traditional talk of ourselves) into intelligible focus: such phenomena as, the relational interweaving of our talk in with both its surroundings and the rest of our activities; the irresistible (pre- personal) power of the embodied human voice to 'move' those to whom it is addressed in various ways; how, in responding and reacting to each other, we create shared, momentary 'dialogical spaces' between us, from within which we can make sense of each other's activities; or, how we can find ourselves momentarily 'positioned' in such spaces, in one evaluationary way or another, enabled and/or constrained as to what we can do next in relation to our surroundings; and so on.
Below, then, in terms of talk of saying, showing, gesturing and feeling, and with some help from Vygotsky's writings, I want to outline what I take to be the main project in Wittgenstein's philosophy: his attempt to bring into view what we might call the primeval, chaotic, embodied streams of life from out of which all our other more institutional forms of life are fashioned, and within which they still remain 'rooted'. For, if 'every sign by itself seems dead... [and only] in use [is it] alive... ' (Wittgenstein, 1953, no.432), then it is no use us searching (as we have done in structural linguistics) for a word's meaning in terms of its function or role within a closed system of formal and decontextualized sign type-to-sign type relationships. That leaves us with no way of grasping the unique uses to which we put our words in the circumstances of their utterance. It is their particular and precise, living relation to the practical circumstances of their use that give our words their precise meaning in practice. 'Our talk,' he says (Wittgenstein, 1969, no.229), 'gets its meaning from the rest of our proceedings' -where its relation to its circumstances can be very subtle indeed, for instance: 'It is certainly possible to be convinced by evidence that someone is in such- and-such a state of mind, that, for instance, he is not pretending. But 'evidence' here includes 'imponderable' evidence... [which] includes subtleties of glance, of gesture, of tone' (Wittgenstein, 1953, p.228e). And, it is this concern with the unique and momentary details of our living exchanges with each other, that makes Wittgenstein's investigations so special. By comparison, Vygotsky's work seems to have a much more global character, for he talks in terms of coming to a grasp of 'the very process by which the higher forms [of our behavior] are established' (Vygotsky, 1978, p.64).
Yet there are, I believe great similarities between his 'theory-method,' and Wittgenstein's philosophical methods (and I shall explore these in yet more detail below). For, in rejecting the 'frequently held view that cognitive development results from the gradual accumulation of separate changes,' Vygotsky suggests instead, '... that child development is a complex dialectical process characterized by periodicity, unevenness in the development of different functions, metamorphosis or qualitative transformation of one form into another, intertwining of external and internal factors, and adaptive processes with overcome impediments the child encounters' (Vygotsky, 1978, p.73). Where for him, what is important in the midst of all this diversity and change, is discovering 'the means and methods that subjects use to organize their own behavior' (Vygotsky, 1978, p.74). So, although his aims may initially seem more global and theoretical, and in line with those traditionally pursued in developmental psychology, in their realization in practice, Vygotsky comes, like Wittgenstein, to focus on the concrete particularities and details in terms of which development is achieved. Thus, rather than an integrated picture of the overall process of development, his approach does not result in a theory of development, but, also like Wittgenstein, presents us instead with a compendium of methods, methods that are 'simultaneously prerequisite and product, the tool and the result of the study' (Vygotsky, 1978, p.65).
These, then, are some of the reasons why I want to explore the nature of Wittgenstein's project by interweaving into my discussion a number of parallels and comparisons between Vygotsky's writings and his. For, I feel, given their similarities, Wittgenstein's project is illuminated by reading him through some of Vygotsky's words, and, of course, vise-versa; they each, it seems to me, can be used to supplement, elaborate, and further specify the strange and special nature of each other's non- theoretical, method or practice driven stance toward the understanding of people's everyday activities. And in both, to repeat, we shall find talk of gesture and feeling central.
Vygotsky's (1986) stance is exactly similar. He also refers to Goethe's claim,
'The connection between thought and word... is neither preformed nor constant. It emerges in the course of development, and itself evolves. To the biblical 'In the beginning was the Word', Goethe makes Faust reply, 'In the beginning was the deed'. The intent here is not to detract from the value of the word... [But] the word was not the beginning - action was there first; it is the end of development, crowning the deed' (p.255).Indeed, as is well known, Vygotsky talks of the different genetic roots of thinking and speech, of a prespeech phase in the development of thought, and a preintellectual phase in the development of speech: That is, like Wittgenstein, he also sees the child at first as relating to its surroundings in terms of whatever basic biological or 'animal' capacities of attention, perception, memory, motivation, learning, etc., it may have. But they also begin to relate to the others around them through verbalizations, not only through their own babbling and crying, their movements and gestures, but also through the others's use of words, particularly words of an indicative and instructive kind, words that can influence their behavior. It is this indicative and instructive use of words in practical contexts that seems crucial. Words like 'Look', 'Look here', 'See, here's the catch', 'Listen', 'Listen for the stroke of twelve', 'Hark, the lark', 'Stop', 'Think', 'Stop and think', 'Careful', 'Watch out for the mud', 'Have you added in the ten you carried forward yet?' and so on. With regard to usages of this kind, as Wittgenstein (1953) remarks, there are 'countless different kinds of use of what we call 'symbols', 'words', 'sentences'' (no.23) - there are countless different kinds of ways in which we might have an influence upon each other's (and our own) behavior, 'move' each other relationally regarding other people or our circumstances. But what Vygotsky emphasizes that Wittgenstein partly misses, I think, is the importance of the 'boot-strap' function of this kind of talk in our cultural development: the way in which it can shift us from an unaware, spontaneous usage of words in a practical context, to a deliberate, selfconscious use of them in a solely intralinguistic (or disciplinary) context. Although Wittgenstein does, as I have already indicated, suggest that our talk gets its meaning from the rest of our proceedings, and he studies the detailed character of our proceedings in different circumstances, he has nothing to say about the developmental process itself. But, for children to be enabled to 'grow into the intellectual life of those around them' (Vygotsky, 1978, p.88), a specific social nature and specific instructional processes would seem to be required. And in not emphasizing the importance of 'instructional' or 'educational' talk in Vygotsky's more specific way, Wittgenstein does not attend to the linguistically-shaped capacities or resources available (or not, as the case may be) in the rest of our proceedings, for such 'instruction' to be possible. For as Vygotsky (1986) notes:
'The general law of development says that awareness and deliberate control appear only during a very advanced stage in the development of a mental function, after it has been used and practiced unconsciously and spontaneously. In order to subject a function to intellectual and volitional control one must first possess it' (p.168).It is the amenability of our spontaneous, background activities to 'instructional' development, that I think Wittgenstein misses.
In attending to the nature of the special 'instructional' forms of talk that can be applied to them, we can note two important activities: First, we can note that teachers (other human beings) can 'call' us, so to speak, into (what for us) is a new practice, into a new activity, into new ways of making links and connections between things that we have not done before. They can set us tasks, questions, problems, activities, such that, in response to the circumstances they create, we spontaneously come to do what we have never done before. Secondly: they can then point out to us what it is that we are already doing spontaneously, and cause us to attend to its details and features. Thus, such 'callings' are a form of 'instructional' talk that makes it possible for teachers to make 'assertions', issue 'injunctions', point out features, etc., in an essentially linguistically created 'subject matter'. Where clearly their task, is to create crucial events in which the child is both led to see and react toward something which they would not otherwise see; to respond to the child's response in a 'proper' disciplinary manner; and to give the opportunity to the child, to act toward the 'subject matter' with the expectation of the teacher's form of 'proper' response. In other words, with the help of the teacher's indicative words, the child can come to organize and structure his or her own perception and action in an institutionally acceptable manner: 'the child begins to master his [or her] surroundings with the help of speech' (Vygotsky, 1978, p.25).
In using the speaking of words in this way, as an embodied prosthetic device, an
'auxiliary means', a 'tool', or 'psychological instrument', through which to 'shape' both
our perceptions and actions, children come to internalize social speech for their own ends:
'Instead of appealing to the adult [for help], children appeal to themselves; language thus takes on an intrapersonal function in addition to its interpersonal use... The history of the process of the internalization of social speech is also the history of the socialization of children's practical intellect' (Vygotsky, 1978, p.27).Wittgenstein (1965) puts the same point more briefly: 'We may say that thinking is essentially the activity of operating with signs,' he says (p.6).
But either way, both suggest that words, that others have used as a
means by which to direct our mental processes as children, become the means by which
we can develop the ability to direct our own mental processes:
'Our experimental study proved that it is the functional use of the word, or any other sign, as means of focussing one's attention, selecting distinctive features and analyzing and synthesizing them, that plays a central role in concept formation... Words and other signs are those means that direct our mental operations, control their course, and channel them toward the solution to the problem confronting us' (pp.106-7).Thus, as for children, so for us as researchers too: 'Learning to direct one's own mental processes with the aid of words or signs is an integral part of the process of [new] concept formation,' claims Vygotsky (1986, p.108). Thus, according to Vygotsky, what one has learned in thinking conceptually is not how to compare the configuration or form of a mental representation with the configuration or form of a state of affairs in reality, but something else in one way more complicated, and in another more simple: one has grasped how to organize and assemble in a socially intelligible way (one that makes sense to the others around one), disparate features of one's surroundings, occurring in different places at different times, but to which one nonetheless knows how to attend, in accordance with 'instructions' these others provided, and which now a supposed 'concept' provides.
But as Vygotsky (1986) says about the running together of both the biological and the social in development, the resulting development is not a simple continuation of earlier forms: 'The nature of the development itself changes, from biological to sociohistorical. Verbal thought is not an innate, natural form of behavior, but is determined by a historical-cultural process and has specific properties and laws that cannot be found in the natural forms of thought and speech' (p.94). It is to such a mixed, indeterminate circumstance as this that, I think, that Vygotsky and Wittgenstein are trying to draw our attention: That many of our forms of talk are not primarily used by us to refer to or to represent events in the world; that is a secondary, derived function. Primarily, we use words in socially constructing and socially sustaining different forms of life between ourselves. Where the forms of life in which are embedded and which surround us, 'call' us into various practices, into certain ways of acting and being, that otherwise we would not exhibit. And that it is from within such practices that it makes further sense to refer and represent circumstances in our use of words.
Indeed, to the extent that people come to embody different intralinguistic ways of relating themselves to their surroundings, in different ways, in different forms of life, they can be seen as (or better, 'talked' of as) having, not just different 'ideas' in different circumstances, but as being different kinds of subjectively self-conscious persons, inhabiting different kinds of social worlds (Shotter, 1993a and b) - that is, we do not just possess the different knowledges involved within ourselves, for such knowledge is not detached from our being, but is 'determinative of what we are in the process of becoming' (Bernstein, 1992, p.25; Gadamer, 1975, p.278). It is at first an embodied, reactive or responsive form of practical knowing, or, of knowing in practice, and, to repeat, it is to the nature of these pre-institutional forms of embodied, socio-practical knowing that I wish to draw attention, and to discuss the forms of talk appropriate to methods for their exploration. It is the nature of this strange, pre- ordinary world, existing in the background to everything we do, that Wittgenstein wants to help us grasp.
That hermeneutic, I claim, can be found in such remarks as the following, that 'a philosophical problem has the form: 'I don't know my way about' (Wittgenstein, 1953, no.123); or: it is 'particular circumstances, which justify me in saying I can go on,' (Wittgenstein, 1953, no.154). It is as if he is imagining us in a great landscape (perhaps with hills and valleys, cities and villages, and so on), but lost in a fog, trying to find landmarks, attempting to get our bearings, thus to continue with our projects - whatever they may be.
In other words, I shall assume that in his investigations, he is not
particularly concerned with events within our heads, with us doing anything intellectual.
Nor is he concerned with us necessarily understanding each other, nor with us sharing
agreements, nor with us necessarily communicating with each other (in the sense of
sending an immaterial idea or concept from the 'mind' of one person into that of another
by the use of material signs such as vibrations in the air or ink-marks on paper), nor with
us necessarily discovering the 'true' nature of our surrounding circumstances. In fact, he
is not concerned with us necessarily doing anything at all in particular, let alone anything
that is 'basic' to us being human. Indeed, as he sees it, communication in the sense of
message-sending is not in fact basic to us being human:
'Not: 'without language we could not communicate with one another' - but for sure: without language we cannot influence other people in such-and-such ways; cannot build roads and machines, etc. And also: without the use of speech and writing people could not communicate' (Wittgenstein, 1953, no.491).In other words, rather than all the complicated intellectual things we can do as individuals, he wants to begin with very simple, practical-social activities. He is simply concerned with us being able to 'go on' with each other (Wittgenstein, 1953, nos.146-155).
Simply reacting or spontaneously responding to each other in ways that make it possible for us to 'go on' with each other in a sensibly followable way are foundational for him, because it is from within such unreflective, aboriginal 'ways of going on', or our 'forms of life' as he calls them, that we achieve all the other things we think of as being important to us. Thus, as he sees it, our different ways of talking and thinking - both about our 'selves' (our subjectivities) and about our 'world' (what we take to be objective) - are not 'there', prior to us 'going on' with each other, but are 'called' into being in the different forms of life we try to establish between ourselves. In this, however, he is not concerned with describing prevailing actualities, but with 'seeing' possibilities - actualities can be established later, through a set of testings and checkings, etc., which again involve us in 'going on' with each other appropriately.
But how we actually do this, how we in fact 'socially construct' or 'develop' different possible ways of 'going on' with each other (with differing kinds of order to them), well... that is up to us to work out, to invent, according to the forms of life we feel we want (and are able) to live. For, as far as he is concerned, there is no single, pre-existing order to be discovered in our lives or in our surroundings. Thus we do not do it (nor do we need to do it) by discovering some already existing but hidden 'laws of social relation' to which we must submit ourselves. We can invent forms of life and ways of talking that later we abandon, forms we no longer feel to be 'right' for us: 'new types of language... come into existence, other become obsolete and get forgotten' (Wittgenstein, 1953, no.23).
Thus, if it is not to how we actually do talk, to what does he want draw our attention? And how does he try to do it? Perhaps of first importance, to emphasize the point already made about practical-social activity and the power of words to move us, is how he attempts to get us to notice precisely this by introducing a new term: 'language- game.' Where 'the term 'language-game' is meant to bring into prominence that the speaking of language is part of an activity, or a form of life' (Wittgenstein, 1953, no.23) -imagine, perhaps, the forms of life in question to be those taking place in the different regions of a city: residential, shopping malls, business, theater, banking, schools, transport, etc.; or the different forms of work and leisure in the more rural regions of a country. It is in such spheres of activity as these, not with inner, mental representations, that we began our linguistic lives. If, in our practical activities, we seem to be 'picturing' (or imagining) the nature of our circumstances to ourselves, such 'pictures' are not primarily present to us as contemplative ('seeable') images in our individual heads, but 'in' the expectations and anticipations, the responses and reactions, in terms of which we 'shape' our practical activities. Just as in dogs fighting - the example that Mead (1934) uses to introduce his notion of a conversation of gestures - it is in the way that living beings continually 'shape' their activities in a characteristic way, both in response to, and in anticipation of, the activities of the others around them, that reveals how in practice they 'imagine' the nature of those others to be (if that is a right way, i.e., non-misleading, way of talking about it at all!).
In the same way, Wittgenstein wants to get us out of the habit of thinking about what might go on in our heads, and to center us back in the forms of life, in the linguistically 'shaped' bodily activities within which we grew up and in the language-games they make possible. For him, they are 'the given' (Wittgenstein, 1953, p.226e): 'The language-game is so to say something unpredictable. I mean: it is not based on grounds. It is not reasonable (or unreasonable). It is there - like our life' (Wittgenstein, 1969, no.559). It is with what we spontaneously and bodily 'show' each other in our language games - not with the 'pictures' or images 'called' into our individual minds in such language games - that we must start.
Now we could say that what we 'show' in each language game, is a certain way of
making sense of each other's (and our own) actions, 'in' our actions. But, as Wittgenstein
points out, we need to be careful not to think of such sense here as being simply an inner
process, much more is involved in such sense making than us each merely having our
own inner 'feelings'. We exhibit something much better termed as a sensibility: for what
we 'show' in our activities are continuously changing sensings in which we reach out, so
to speak, with different anticipatory gestures and responses (often of very subtle and
unique kinds) to connect with our changing circumstances in quite specific and precise
ways. 'An 'inner process' stands in need of outward criteria,' he says (Wittgenstein,
1953, no.580); 'an expectation is imbedded (sic) in a situation, from which it arises'
(Wittgenstein, 1953, no.581); our living gestures and responses are not merely reactions
to our immediate circumstances, but ones that also connect or link our reactions to other
possible circumstances in sometimes very complex ways - in taking up a past,
incorporating the present, and linking to a future, in a quite specific way. And
Wittgenstein is concerned to bring out the intricacy of the specificities involved here. For,
just as in listening to music with thought and understanding, we seem to know in advance
'what is to come', so that we can be 'surprised' when it doesn't, so here too, we seem to
have a sense of the possibilities involved. As practiced, practical interlocutors, we seem
to be well aware of the different possible meanings of each others responses and reactions
in a situation, thus to question each other quite precisely to avoid being misled.
As a case in point, Wittgenstein (1953, p.217e) describes just such a situation in
which one person says to another: 'Why did you look at me at that word, were you
thinking of...?' - when for a moment, perhaps, we were struck by a connection between
what the person was saying and something else (quite specific) in our experience. The
speaker wonders what 'that connection' was, and would like it explained. 'So there is a
reaction at a certain moment,' Wittgenstein comments, 'and it is explained by saying 'I
thought of...' or 'I suddenly remembered'' (p.217e). But what is involved here is quite
detailed, quite unique, and quite specific to the situation in which it occurs. To emphasize
this, he points out that
'In saying this ['I thought of...' or 'I suddenly remembered'] you refer to that moment in the time you were speaking. It makes a difference whether you refer to this or to that moment. Mere explanation of a word does not refer to an occurrence at the moment of speaking. The language-game 'I mean (or meant) this' (subsequent explanation of a word) is quite different from this one: 'I thought of.. as I said it'. The latter is akin to 'It reminded me of...'' (Wittgenstein, 1953, p.217e).It is through the use of these 'essential references of the utterance' (Wittgenstein, 1953, p.175e) that we can, in the circumstances, make its unique meaning clear. It is in such subtle responses and reactions as these (and the 'grammar' of their possible links to other reactions), that we 'show' ourselves how to 'shape' our lives in our talk. And, irrespectively of what might be going on privately inside our heads, it in these subtle responses and reactions that we influence each other in our practical 'goings on' with each other.
This focus upon the strange nature of these 'joint' or 'dialogical' forms of activity is perhaps blurred, both by our tendency as academics to take our own individual intellectual activity as a paradigm for all 'normal' activity, and by the fact that Wittgenstein himself also often chose to study such seemingly individual intellectual activities, like the continuing of number series, or the theorizing of philosophers. Whereas, the complexity of what we 'just do' spontaneously, without any prior deliberation, problem-solving, interpretation, or other inner intellectual 'working out', might have been more forcibly brought home to us, if he had noted the nature of some of our more complex, but less orderly, bodily, social activities: simply activities like hand- shaking or dancing or negotiating other people's movements upon side-walks or at door- ways; playing racquet or other ball games; or, how we maneuver furniture with the help of others, for instance.
This, then, orients us toward a new task: that of attempting to formulate or to articulate the as yet unarticulated, socio-cultural background ways of 'going on' with each other that we have so far invented (and might further invent) for ourselves between ourselves, to linguistically explicate (aspects of) what is implicit in our currently embodied forms of life to 'see' it as it is. He is concerned to explore the specific nature of the circumstances in which it is possible for us, simply and sensibly to 'follow' or to 'grasp' the 'tendencies' in each other's conduct; he wants to bring to our awareness the 'tendencies' we 'show' each other in our activities that enable us to 'go on' with each other in spontaneous, unreflective ways. Correspondingly, he is also concerned to seek ways of talking in which we can avoid 'misleading' each other (and ourselves) into confusion. He wants to avoid ways of talking about how we understand talk, that - because they forget their circumstances, because they fail to exhibit any clear connections with their surroundings - lead us into misunderstandings, or into inventing mythologies or empty theories. 'Try not to think of understanding as a 'mental process' at all. - For that is the expression which confuses you. But ask yourself: in what sort of case, in what kind of circumstances, do we say, 'Now I know how to go on',...' (Wittgenstein, 1953, no.154).
The problem is this: that 'there are important accompanying phenomena of talking which are often missed when one talks without thinking' (Wittgenstein, 1953, p.218e). Thus, as we easily do forget the relation of our talk to its 'background' (especially as academics), we often do confuse ourselves in making sense of it. Thus another of his concerns is with inventing 'therapeutic' methods to help us extract ourselves from such confusions and misunderstandings, from what he calls 'the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language' (Wittgenstein, 1953, no.109). For, just as with the virtual realities that present themselves to us in 3-D autostereograms (if we can ever 'see' them in the first place, that is!), we do not 'see through' them, to recognize what it is about them that allows us to see them as we do, so with our talk: we 'see' what our talk 'says' not 'how' it says it 'through' what it 'shows'. He wants us to look 'into the workings of our language, and that in such a way as to make us recognize those workings: in spite of an urge to misunderstand them. The problems are solved, not by giving new information, but by arranging what we have always known' (Wittgenstein, 1953, no.109), but known only in practice, not intellectually. Thus to repeat: Our task is to draw attention to the unarticulated, and usually ignored, possible ways of 'going on' that we have so far invented between ourselves, and to do this from within the conduct of our own embodied, conversational activities, even when a vision of the whole, in theory, is denied us.
A part of what is involved, I want to suggest, is us paying attention as to how, in a particular circumstance, the unique temporal process of people's words-in-their-speaking as they body them forth out into the world around them, influences us, as thinkers, as speakers and listeners, and as readers and writers. For, if we are to understand how we 'show' the nature of the world in which we find ourselves in the 'shape' of our speaking - where that world both constructs, and is constructed in, our speakings -then we need to understand how we can be 'moved', bodily, in certain ways in our speakings. Thus, I shall first want to focus upon the practical-social ways in which we interrelate ourselves to each other in our forms of talk and writing, and the different forms of life and living to which they might give rise. Only after that, will I be interested in the different ways of making sense, of both ourselves and our surroundings, that become available to us from within such forms of life, and the ways of 'going on' with each other they make available. It is to the making of such ways of 'going on', and the relations between Wittgenstein and Vygotsky in this respect, that I would now like to turn.
How do we
in fact 'show' in the 'voicing' of our words, our 'utterances', our sense of our
circumstances? How does our 'linguistic sense' of our circumstances 'linguistically shape'
our conduct? It is here that we must, I think, begin to talk about the gestural nature of
our talk entwined activities, and of the part played in them by our talk of feeling, and of
our feelings (rather than of us as picturing and representing).
For a first clue as to the gestural nature of our talk, we can begin by reminding
ourselves of what both Wittgenstein and Vygotsky said about language as being rooted in
spontaneous reactions, that it was a refinement or a part of already ongoing activities, that
'in the beginning was the deed'. But also at this point, let me quote G.H. Mead (1934)
who seems to me to put the matter well when he says:
'The mechanism of meaning is... present in the social act before the emergence of consciousness or awareness of meaning occurs. The act or adjustive response of the second organism gives to the gesture of the first organism the meaning it has' (pp.77-78).Vygotsky (1978) gives a concrete example of just such a process when he describes a possible origin for the gesture of pointing. Initially, he suggests, 'this gesture is nothing more than an unsuccessful attempt to grasp something, a movement aimed at a certain object which designates forthcoming activity' (p.56). Whether this is its original source or not, is not perhaps important; what is important, is how the child's movement is responded to by an other: 'Pointing becomes a gesture for others. The child's unsuccessful attempt (?) engenders a reaction not from the object he seeks but from another person' (p.56). Indeed, we realize, that all kinds of activities - intakes or exhalations of breath, movements of the head and body, intoned vocalizations, reactions to sounds, light, smells, etc. - can all come to have semiotic significance, if reacted to as such by others.
And in this respect, there is another well known example of Vygotsky's (1986, pp.241-242); his reference to the six drunks in one of Dostoevsky's works, who all utter the same, single swear word: The first to express contempt for what they had been discussing; the second to doubt that the negative attitude of the first was warranted; the third in intrusive anger; the fourth with restraining anger at the third; the fifth with joy at having possibly found a solution to the problem troubling them; the sixth in deflating the fifth's pride. Such talk as this is, as Vygotsky remarks (quoting Gabriel Tarde), ''a mere supplement to the exchange of glances'' (p.240). Our living talk, so to speak, is always a part of some larger, ongoing flow of responsive, background activity, that both 'calls out' reactions from us, and 'into' which we act; and it is the role of our action in changing the character of that background activity that we need to understand. And this requires, not the recognition of a repeated form, but an understanding of its unique use in a particular context, its singular relation to its surroundings.
Turning now to our position within this background flow as second persons: How should we characterize the occurrences within ourselves that 'shape' our responses or reactions to the gestures, or gestural aspects, of the activity of the first persons others around us? To what within our own activity should we attend? For another clue, I think we can turn to what Vygotsky has to say about why it is not at first easy for a child to learn to write. For: 'Even its minimal development requires a high level of abstraction. It is speech in thought and image only, lacking the musical, expressive, intonational qualities of oral speech. In learning to write, the child must disengage himself from the sensory aspect of speech and replace words by images [or forms] of words' (p.181, my emphasis). Our task, it would seem, is to reverse that process: If we are to speak of the different uses to which words are put, we must learn to ignore their forms - 'what confuses us is the uniform appearance of words when we hear them spoken or meet them in script and print' (Wittgenstein, 1953, no.11, my emphasis) - and bring ourselves to attend again to the sensory quality of words, to the particular responsive feelings generated by the musical, expressive, and intonational qualities of speech in its context. It is this sense or sensing of the nature of our own responding to our circumstances that we must interrogate. We must not replace people's living words by images or forms or shapes, but appreciate the way in which such images, forms, or shapes, can be used to refine - to direct, specify, control, and organize - our living reactions and responses to our circumstances.
Indeed, in this respect, Vygotsky (1986) remarks upon the 'serious errors' produced
by 'ignoring the unitary nature of the process under study. The living union of sound and
meaning is broken into two parts, which are assumed held together merely by mechanical
associative connections' (p.5).
'When we approach the problem of the interrelation between thought and language and other aspects of mind, the first question that arises is that of intellect and affect. Their separation as subjects of study is a major weakness of traditional psychology, since it makes the thought process appear as an autonomous flow of 'thoughts thinking themselves', segregated from the fullness of life, from personal needs and interests, the inclinations and impulses of the thinker. Such segregated thought must be viewed either as a meaningless epiphenomenon incapable of changing anything in the life or conduct of the person or else as some kind of primeval force exerting an influence on personal life in an inexplicable, mysterious way... [E]very idea contains a transmuted affective attitude toward the bit of reality to which it refers' (p.10).But here we must be careful, as I have already indicated, not to locate the final source of a person's expressed or realized thought solely within their individual heads. For as Wittgenstein (1953) points out, that saying
'Now I understand the principle' does not mean the same thing as 'The formula... occurs to me'. An inner feeling is one thing, realizing or formulating it in a socially intelligible manner is another. Saying 'Now I understand', or 'Now I can go on' is not a description of a process occurring behind or side by side with that of saying the formula. To repeat: 'If there has to be anything 'behind the utterance of the formula' it is particular circumstances, which justify me in saying I can go on - when the formula occurs to me' (no.154).What begins as an affective attitude has, in the course of its realization, to be transmuted into a socially intelligible and legitimate form - the giving of form to feeling.
Talk of the gestural aspect of our activities, draws our attention to their living, embodied nature: that fact that our activities cannot not affect those around us; that fact that anything we do or say both 'calls out' a response of some kind in them, and 'points toward' something in our shared surroundings, in the shared space between us. These practical or relational meanings of our speaking and acting, we can call their sense. Where, 'a word acquires its sense from the context in which it appears; in different contexts, it changes its sense. Meaning remains stable throughout the changes of sense' (Vygotsky, 1986, p.245). While like Vygotsky, Wittgenstein (1953) is also concerned with the sense of our utterances, but, in remarking on the musical nature of our speech, he talks of it as having a theme. Where, a theme 'points outside itself' in the sense that: 'it makes an impression on me which is connected with things in its surroundings - e.g., with our language and its intonations; and hence with the whole field of our language- games...' (Wittgenstein, 1981, no.175). Volosinov (1973) talks of our utterances as having a them in the same way: 'The theme is the expression of the concrete, historical situation that engendered the utterance' (p.99); where, an utterance's theme is distinguished from its meaning, by being unique and singular, rather than general and reproducible.
Above, then, I have wanted to argue that, what others hear us as saying in our speech depends upon what, gesturally, we 'show' in it; and that, what we 'show' in it (i.e., 'gesture' or 'point' toward) depends upon what we bodily 'feel' or 'sense' from within our living involvement in the whole speech process. Thus, to repeat a previous formulation, rather than us acting 'out of' an inner plan or schema, we can think of ourselves in practice as acting 'into' our own present circumstances, in terms of the opportunities and barriers, the permissions, prohibitions, callings, rejections, requestings, refusals, and other voicings it offers us. Where each voicing, due to its living, responsive effect on us, moves us in a certain way; and we 'go on' from such voicings to respond with further voicings. Indeed, as Mead (1934) notes, 'being aware of what one is saying to determine what one is going to say thereafter - that is a process with which we are all familiar' (p.140). In other words, what we 'show' or begin to express at any one moment in our speakings, is one of the 'tendencies' among the field of possibilities within which we sense ourselves as being 'placed' or 'positioned'.
And the problem is for us not only
to grasp the nature of that field of possibilities in some way, but for us to express to the
others around us, how we ourselves individually experience it. Indeed, in growing up
within linguistically structured and sustained relationships, as Vygotsky (1978) says, 'the
child begins to perceive the world not only through his [or her] eyes but also through his
[or her] speech' (p.32). And later, it is not just their 'seeing' but their 'acting' that
becomes informed by their words. Relevant here too, is a well known claim of
Vygotsky's (1978). It goes as follows:
'Every function in the child's cultural development appears twice: first on the social level, and later, on the individual level; first, between people..., and then inside people... All higher [mental] functions originate as actual relations between human individuals' (p.57)-and Vygotsky (1986) demonstrates a number of ways in which we can use words in this way, to direct and organize our own activities. In this connection, Wittgenstein also remarks, 'a human being can encourage himself, give himself orders, obey, blame and punish himself; he can ask himself a question and answer it. We could even imagine human beings who spoke only in monologue; who accompanied their activities by talking to themselves' (Wittgenstein, 1953, no.243). But again, how should we come to an intelligible grasp of our use of language in such cases as these?
But what is the nature of the 'thing', the 'body', that he wants to show itself in its movement? Here, it is useful to remind ourselves of his earlier comment, that 'to explain the higher forms of human behavior, we must uncover the means by which man (sic) learns to organize and direct his behavior' (Vygotsky, 1986, p.102, my emphasis). In other words, somewhere, subsisting in people's activities, are historically accumulated and institutionalized 'voicings', ways of speaking and acting, that serve as a means, as 'tools', or (in Vygotsky's terms) as 'the psychological instruments,' that enable people to shape their own and other people's activities in the world. Perhaps our task in coming to a grasp of the nature of human understanding is, so to speak, to re- voice processes that have become de-voiced and abstracted from their proper habitats, to re-see or to re-envision them in their living contexts.
But what kind of method might we employ here? And what might the result of its application be like? For whatever 'it' is that is in us somewhere, 'it' is something really peculiar, something we cannot visualize as an object, something that we cannot 'picture' mentally, something that cannot be 'grasped' within the head of a single individual; it is quite unlike any other kind of knowledge with which we are familiar. For, 'it' is to do, not only with our own continuously changing anticipations and expectations, desires and aims, as we conduct our own practical activities in a social context (actual or imagined), but also, the changing anticipations, expectations, desires, and aims of the others in that context, and the relation between our expectations and theirs - and how these expectations 'shape' our conduct. Yet, as I have already indicated, it need not remain wholly rationally-invisible to us. There are ways in which we can draw our attention to important aspects of 'its' nature. And the provision of an appropriate set of methods for such investigations, is Wittgenstein's achievement.
He calls them 'grammatical' investigations, or investigations in 'philosophical or logical grammar'. They depend upon exploring the feelings of anticipation and expectation that 'shape' our conduct in relation to its circumstances in quite precise ways. What Wittgenstein realized was, that although we cannot say what these feelings are, to the extent that they do shape our conduct -what we do and what we say - then those feelings of tendency, of expectation and anticipation, are shown by the expectancies and anticipations in our conduct in quite precise ways. Thus one of his methods in these explorations is simply to say: 'Look at this' - to draw our attention to what we have in the past ignored. Another, is to confront us with comparisons, with why we say this rather than that; why such and such 'feels' the right things to say, while so and so evokes feelings of surprise and awkwardness. For instance: If we say, 'From what he says, that seems to be his intention, but I doubt it,' it raises no problems with us; however, if we say: 'From what I say, that seems to be my intention, but I doubt it,' it sounds distinctly odd. Although there are occasions in which we might say such a thing, ordinarily, we find such an utterance senseless: we do not know how to respond to it, how to anticipate the behavior of the person speaking, how to coordinate our actions in with theirs.
Again, if someone says to us: 'I really mean every word I say, but please don't take me seriously.' The anticipations raised by the first part of the utterance are dashed by the second; it is its logical grammar that is all wrong. Indeed, his method in many of these comparisons is of a dialogical kind: he compares what is said in one circumstance with another; what 'you' (as a follower of the Augustinian picture of language say) with what he (LW) 'wants' to say; what 'you' might be tempted to say with what is done in a particular language-game; and so on. As Cavell (1976, p.71) points out, 'the voice of temptation and the voice of correctness are the antagonists in Wittgenstein's dialogues.' (Cavell could have pointed also, to the 'voice of what can be said' and the 'voice of what can only be shown', as well as to the many other more subsidiary 'voices' at work in Wittgenstein's dialogues.) Where Wittgenstein's purpose in all of this is not to get us to see a new 'picture' of language, of our speakings, but to get us to 'see' in a new way that leads us into 'making connections' that we have not made before.
This is what Wittgenstein (1953) means, I think, when he says: 'Grammar tells us what kind of object anything is' (no.373). Only here, the 'object' is not anything like a physical object as such at all, but some 'thing' momentarily 'within' both us and our circumstances, to do with anticipating, with sensing or feeling, what next might be a 'fitting' continuation. Where, 'it is in language that an expectation and its fulfillment make contact,' he says (Wittgenstein, 1953, no.445). In Vygotsky's sense, the 'thing' we need to study is a special 'body' that only 'shows' itself only in its 'movement', that is, only in the activity of us responsively or sensibly speaking our words 'into' an appropriate linguistically responsive context. Here again, what is meant by such a 'body', can perhaps be understood in terms of what occurs in our perception of 3-D autostereograms where, what we 'see', is not actually itself objectively 'there' before us (in the sense of just anybody being able to see it). We 'construct' it in the special 'way of looking' we have had to develop to 'see', not as an actual but as a possible reality, one that, in this case, would of course fail many of the tests for an actual 3-D reality. For again, what is important in such ways of looking is not so much what we think of ourselves as seeing, but its possible consequences, i.e., how in fact we would be prepared to act in relation to such a 'reality'.
His method(s) then in his grammatical investigations, is not to discover something special and hidden to which to appeal in proving his claims to be true, or even to justify them. He simply wants us to see something 'in' what is unhidden before us, the 'connections' between our doings and sayings and their circumstances. Thus to wake us up to the practicalities of our own relating, to how we do what we do, to our own living responding to what is going on around us, to our sensibilities.
In other words, what Vygotsky and Wittgenstein draw to our attention, is the importance of the different sensibilities associated with the different forms of life we establish and sustain between ourselves in our everyday talk together. And that, to the extent that we owe our higher mental functions to such forms of life, not just any 'way' of talking will do. For, it is in our use of words that we arouse (in others and in ourselves) certain feelings of anticipation and expectation, a sense, as to the possible nature of our future conduct - how we will relate what we do both to the others around us, and, to the rest of our circumstances. It is this sense that 'shapes' how it is felt appropriate to respond. And what Wittgenstein realized was, that although we cannot say what these feelings of tendency, of expectation and anticipation, 'are', to the extent that they do shape our conduct - what we do and what we say - then they are shown in the temporal unfolding of our conduct in quite precise ways.
In relating ourselves both to our own circumstances, and, to the others around us, we 'show' the 'movement' of our minds (so to speak), in the pitch, pacing, pausing, and intonation of our speech. And if, as Volosinov (1986) puts it, 'meaning only belongs to a word in its position between speakers [at the moment of its utterance]' (p.102), then the tone in which it is uttered is, for instance, a part of the constructing of the relation between speaker and listener: whether the relation demands submission, invites collaboration, requests refutation ('please say I'm wrong), etc. It also expresses our relation to our own position, our confidence, happiness, uncertainty, and so on. And others -although they may not in any way be conscious of the fact - sense the tendencies toward which a speaker's words gesture. In our responsive talk we are concerned, not only properly to address those to which we talk, but also to be answerable for our own, unique, momentary sense of our 'position' in existence. Where, if we do not or cannot voice, i.e., realize, that sense, then - as Vygotsky (1986) quotes Osip Mandelstam as saying - 'The word I forgot/ which once I wished to say/ And voiceless thought/ returns to shadow's chamber' (p.210).
In this connection, I think it is important to point out Wittgenstein's comments in the Preface to the Investigations. There he says that he could not 'weld my remarks together into [a natural order without breaks]... my thoughts were soon crippled if I tried to force them on any single direction against their natural inclination' (p.ix). Such a sense or feeling of linguistic inappropriateness is central to his whole method. Indeed, Wittgenstein's philosophy clearly emerges from, and is passionately shaped by vague but strong feelings of dis-ease, troubles to do with our use of words that cannot by resolved simply by finding out more about our world. 'They are deep disquietudes; their roots are as deep in us as the forms of our language and their significance as great as the import of our language,' he says (no.111).
To the extent that our different ways of talking draw our attention to things in different ways, his concern is with whether our current ways of talking lead us to see (hear) things aright. Do they lead us to heed the world around us and others with the right kind or quality of attention? As Wittgenstein sees it, our current ways of talking may not only be leading us to overlook possibilities in our circumstances that we perhaps ought also to be considering when deciding what to do for the best in our lives, but it may be that there is something deeply wrong in us all in seeing, thinking about, and talking of matters in the ways that we do - we may be deceiving ourselves as to what we take the value of these ways to be. In short, rather than with technical problems, Wittgenstein confronts us ethical worries, issues to do with what in fact he sees as the 'poverty' and 'darkness' of our times (Wittgenstein, 1953, p.xe). Rather than to do with how best we might, as individuals, exploit this or that possibility we see as already existing in the circumstances around us, they are to do with assessing whether that is what we, as members of a social group, ought to be doing at all.
For Vygotsky too, one's thought begins as an inner sense that 'does not express itself
in words, but rather realizes itself in them' (p.251). Indeed, Vygotsky feels that what can
be said about the long term relation of thought to language, can be said equally well of
their short term, momentary relation:
'The relation of thought to word is not a thing but a process, a continual movement backward and forth from thought to word and from word to thought. In that process, the relation of thought to word undergoes changes that themselves may be regarded as developmental in the functional sense. Thought is not merely expressed in words; it comes into existence through them. Every thought tends to connect something with something else, to establish a relation between things. Every thought moves, grows and develops, fulfills a function, solves a problem' (p.218).Thus, 'the structure of speech does not simply mirror the structure of thought; that is why words cannot be put on by thought like a ready-made garment' (p.219). 'Behind words, there is the independent grammar of thought, the syntax of word meanings' (p.222). 'The relation between thought and word is a living process; thought is born through words. A word devoid of thought is a dead thing... But thought that fails to realize itself in words remains a 'Stygian shadow' [O. Mandelstam]... The connection between thought and word, however, is neither preformed nor constant. It emerges in the course of development, and itself evolves' (1986, p.255).
In other words, the originary 'I' of Kant, the Cogitio of Descartes, taken as given prior to discourse, is seen by the post-structuralists as constituted only in and through language as (not ever quite) a closed system. But both these above ways of talking seem to me to be equally 'blind' (or 'deaf'?) to the fact that one's talk is never a matter of innocent description: both ways of talking are the product of quite peculiar kinds of disciplinary discourses, with their own cultural, ethico-political, and historical dimensions. Indeed, they are both exclusionary, professional ways of talking that have been carved out (not without violence, let it be said) of the ordinary, everyday conversational background to our lives. They both work, in fact, to render what I have called 'the interactive moment', and the right of 1st-persons to manifest their feelings in such moments, i.e, to make them rationally-invisible by what they 'show' in their actions. And they claim to be justified in this, as Wittgenstein points out, in terms of revealing something 'hidden behind appearances' that is worth revealing. Whereas, to repeat, 'nothing is hidden' (no.435), for our task is notice and to articulate what it is that in some sense we are already doing in the everyday practical living of our lives.
However, instead of placing the real social and historical processes at the center of our attention, we seduce ourselves with our own talk. Like good novelists or science fiction writers, we easily (mis)lead ourselves into talking to each other (as a professional elite) about supposed theoretical events occurring (within abstract frameworks of our own devising) that do not actually exist. Instead of in the play of voices in our actual talk together, we talk of certain special 'processes and structures', of 'the play of signifiers' or 'the movement of differance', taking place in an impersonal, imaginary, theoretical realm 'behind appearances'. If only we could heighten our sensibilities to what is actually happening between us, then perhaps we could see ourselves at work within such activities - or, at least, if not to 'see' ourselves, then to 'hear' our own voices at work in how we can and do shape our own lives.
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